Internet Commercialism?!

Michael Albert


is an old economic saying that "there is no free lunch." To get

something out of an economy you have to put something in. Contrary to rumors,

this holds for the Internet as well as for factories. To provide internet

content takes labor, tools, and organization, just as providing shoes, food, or

housing, and paying for it requires revenues. The real issue isn’t should web

sites be free or not, but rather how should web sites pay their bills for

internet information delivery?


option is to attract advertising. "Free" TV is supported this way, and

so is "free" radio. I don’t know anyone who extols television or

radio, however, as intrinsically progressive anti-commercial institutions due to

users not having to pay to watch Sixty Minutes, The Practice, or The Simpsons,

or to listen to FM music. Everyone I know knows that advertising corrupts media

content and that in any event, the public ultimately pays for advertising in the

price of items we consume. What is odd is that this sophisticated awareness

about TV and radio disappears for some folks I know when they think about the



can progressive web sites get funds from? If we reject advertising on grounds

that it perverts media motives, how about from our users? Of course, a

particular person might have good reasons to reject paying a progressive web

operation for information, but what isn’t a good reason is a the belief that

left sites shouldn’t charge.


online information distribution doesn’t generate its own funds and even reduces

funds available from sponsoring organizations such as Z, the Nation, ITT, the

Progressive, or grassroots organizations, unions, think tanks or other left

movement endeavors, not only by the costs of services offered, but by cutting

into their subscription or member revenues, progressive online efforts will

stagnate, and even print and other sources for online information may suffer.


turns out, therefore, that arguing that leftists shouldn’t ask for donations or

fees for information is ill-conceived and counter productive. Here are two ways

I react when I encounter such views.


I point out that when people have in mind free in the sense of not having to

pay. the juxtapositions free and just, free and fair, free and liberated, free

and equitable, free and participatory, free and democratic, and even free and

non-commercial, are not juxtapositions of synonyms or even of closely related

terms. TV and radio are paid for by ads or subsidies rather than direct

expenditures from viewers/listeners. Are TV and radio fair, liberated,

equitable, participatory, democratic, or even non-commercial? Of course not, so

why do would an advocate of social justice look at internet web sites either

cluttered with ads or slipping into disrepair for want of funds, and disparage

as commercial public entreaties to support dissident publishing, I ask.


To hammer the idea home in a fashion that may irritate some folks at first, but

may also seriously challenge and turn around mistaken assumptions, I then gently

ask people to consider the juxtaposition of "free" (meaning demanding

no fee and even no entreaty for donations) and "freeloader" (meaning

someone who enjoys benefits from a good or service without sharing in its

support and sustenance). These two terms, free (as in not paying) and freeloader

(as in selfishly or ignorantly avoiding costs), are far more synonymous, I urge,

than the more benign juxtapositions that many folks believe about their choices

to surf free and cancel their subscriptions.


please, if you encounter or are yourself someone who doesn’t want to support Z,

ZNet, and the ZNet Commentary Program and all the many services and projects you

can imagine us doing with regular internet financial revenues — that’s

absolutely fine, of course. Not everyone has to like Z’s very particular content

and services. But if you know folks who are getting a lot of information and

political analysis from progressive and left venues, whether on the internet, in

print, or in other venues, and if they support the existence of such efforts as

essential to trying to move society in just directions, but in addition think

that paying for information or giving donations is unworthy of them, please do

consider trying to get them to understand that there really is no free lunch,

even for leftists, so that opening their wallets in some progressive direction

they choose isn’t succumbing to crass commercialism, but is, instead, fighting



finally, returning to ZNet per se, we are more than happy to provide during

January 32200 free update recipients the commentaries and zine and forum access,

but, after that, we do hope you will consider becoming a ZNet Sustainer at

whatever level you feel appropriate and consistent with your income and your

taste for the material. If even one in five of you do that, the program and the

site as a whole will only get better — much, much better.


Leave a comment